The Grey King, Susan Cooper (1975): Wales Readathon 2019

“It is because you are not properly human, but one of the Old Ones of the Light put here to hold back the terrible power of the Dark. You are the last of that circle to be born on earth. And I have been waiting for you.”

 

greykingOne of the bonuses of joining the book blogging community is participating in special months or readalongs that expose me to new authors. In this case, I can honestly say I would probably not have read Susan Cooper’s, The Grey King had the Wales reading event, The Dewithon 2019, not come along.

Though this book is number four in a series I have not read, this did not seem to affect my reading experience: I read it in two sittings wholly drawn in by the storytelling. And though I may have missed some elements by not having read the previous books, especially regarding the eleven year-old protagonist Will Stanton and how he realized he was an Old One on his first full quest to overcome the rising Dark, the book worked fine as a stand alone title for me. For a full summary of the book, I recommend the Kirkus Review.

I choose this book for two reasons: one, the Wales setting, of course; and two, I wanted something fantasy-related as I thought I needed a little “light” reading at the moment. Ha! Let’s just say quests to overcome the Dark are far from light and I should have known!

Will Stanton comes to his relatives in Wales to convalesce after a bout with hepatitis. During his illness he was plagued by a delirium that filled his head with words and images he didn’t understand and now that he is well, can’t let go of them or a feeling of foreboding and something he is supposed to do about it. Once in Wales he awakens to the meaning of these signs and realizes he is on a mission, the details of which are not always obvious until he is in danger.

What makes the novel compelling is how gradually it is revealed to Will that many of those in the family he is staying with and their friends also have a part to play against this rising Dark. Yet, they as well do not know the extent of their role until called upon. So, the reader is carried along with the story, not knowing who is who until the final pages.

The book is based on Welsh legends that the people of the village have grown up with and talked about all of their lives. From the hills and mountains to the lakes, rock outcroppings, to magical beasts and fabled people the story is steeped in the mythology of this distinct place. And as Will goes about gaining strength it is obvious that his presence with these particular relatives is no coincidence; that he had to be here, in this place, at this time.

Will’s memory is gradually activated to specific tasks, to words of ancient spells in the Old Language and to the people around him and to what they mean for the quest. He senses the power of the Grey King, the rising Dark and how to fight it, the identity of the three-robed Old Ones, to the evil neighbor Caradog Prichard, the kindness of John Rowland and his deep knowledge of all the legends and tales of the land and to the final revelation of his friend and ally, Bran, and his true identity.

And as far as this final revelation of the whole quest and success of it, I have only three words: What. An. Ending….

A spoiler, of course, so I won’t say. But as I sat reading the last pages surprised and shocked, I thought, “Of COURSE, King Arthur would have a place in this story…of course!

A final note on Susan Cooper’s writing—which at times is wonderfully poetic and lyrical—the narrative is so beautifully constructed due to her superb knowledge of the old legends and stories that make even the setting itself feel alive with its magic.

I am not sure if I will read the other books in this series, because I can’t imagine I would enjoy them as much as this one. But who knows, I may have to find out….

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My Edition
Title: The Grey King
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Atheneum
Device: Hardcover
Year: 1977
Pages: 208

Challenges: Library Love, Dewithon19

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Wales Readathon – #Dewithon19

dewithon19

 

What do daffodils, Saint David’s Day and March 2019 have in common? And what the heck is a ‘dewithon’?*

They mean the Welsh Readathon is here!

During the month of March readers and bookbloggers all over the world are invited to read and share about the literature, culture and people of Wales. Through fiction, nonfiction, articles, tweets and book reviews we have the opportunity to dig a little deeper, if you’re like me, into a country I know little about.

The mastermind behind this celebration of all things Welsh is Paula Bardell-Hedley of BookJotter.com. The hub for the month where links to posts are located is here. Unfamiliar with the literature of Wales and need some guidance? Paula has posted links to writers and books in all genres here. On Twitter you can find people sharing their links and thoughts with these hashtags: #dewithon19 and walesreadathon19

But wait…there’s more! Paula has included a readalong and who doesn’t love a good community-wide readalong?! Published in 1908, The Autobiography of a Super-tramp, by W.H. Davies is about his adventures through the UK, Canada and the US. It is always illuminating to read descriptions of your own country from people traveling through and that this one is from the early 19th century is a bonus for me. (If this is not available in your area, Amazon has a Kindle copy). For more about Davies and the schedule for the readalong, go here.

My reading contribution at this point is Susan Cooper’s, The Grey King, which is part of her Dark is Rising Sequence. I would also like to read something from the Welsh diaspora, which I haven’t chosen yet, and I hope to be inspired by some surprises!

ETA: I think I’ll amend this list as books come up, as I just added Under Milk Wood, by Dylan Thomas to my short but growing pile.

Happy reading…or as they say in Wales, Mwynhewch ddarllen! (Enjoy reading!)

 

*Saint David is the patron saint of Wales and March 1st is his death anniversary
The daffodil is the national flower of Wales
Dewi is the diminutive form of Dafydd (David)

Madame de Treymes, Edith Wharton (1907)

And Madame de Treymes has left her husband?
Ah, no, poor creature: they don’t leave their husbands—they can’t.

 

treymesMadame de Treymes, published in 1907, is Wharton’s first work after The House of Mirth. As one of the themes in most of her fiction, this novella is very much concerned with the male/female dynamic around marriage. In this short work Wharton’s prose weaves a consummate tale of cunning and deceit, good intentions, hope and promise and the final let down.

The story revolves around the American Fanny de Malrive (née Frisbee) and her wish to divorce her husband. At this time in France, the husband must initiate the proceedings and though he granted a separation six years ago, he has not allowed for this greater termination of their union. As John Durham has proposed the need for a divorce is pressing and they hope the influence of Christiane de Treymes, her husband’s sister, can convince him. One of the issues holding back her consent to marry Durham is the requirement in the separation that she remain in France where her husband’s family has full access to their young son, which she believes will also be part of any divorce settlement. It is this control she fears and something she knows Durham cannot understand:


The moment he passes out of my influence, he passes under that other—the influence I have been fighting against every hour since he was born!—There is nothing in your experience—in any American experience—to correspond with that far-reaching family organization, which is itself a part of the larger system, and which encloses a young man of my son’s position in a network of accepted prejudices and opinions. Everything is prepared in advance—his political and religious convictions, his judgments of people, his sense of honour, his ideas of women, his whole view of life…Already he is only half mine, because the Church has the other half.

Gallantly, John responds, “If you’ll marry me, I’ll agree to live out here as long as you want, and we’ll be two instead of one to keep hold of your half of him.” And so, they are resolved.

We are never certain about the crimes Fanny’s husband committed, be they against her and their marriage or something else, but his family willingly supported the separation. Divorce is another matter entirely, though. Christiane is the most important member of his family and she has always been sympathetic to Fanny, so it is to her she and John turn. However, when John asks for her support, she asks him for help with her own serious matter: she is in debt after having taken her husband’s and family’s money and now has no means to pay it back. The debtor turns out to be her lover and she wants John to bail him out. Blackmail? He hesitates with his answer as such a despicable request sinks in. She responds:

Do you mean to give me nothing—not even your sympathy—in return? Is it because you have heard horrors of me? When are they not said of a woman who is married unhappily? Perhaps not in your fortunate country, where she may seek liberation without dishonor., But here–! You who have seen the consequences of our disastrous marriages—you who may yet be the victim of our cruel and abominable system; have you no pity for one who has suffered  in the same way, and without the possibility of release?…I don’t pretend to deny that I know I am asking you a trifle. You Americans, when you want a thing always pay ten times what it is worth.

He won’t do it. He won’t help her in this way. But in the end, Christiane still presses her brother for a divorce.

Months pass as the proceedings and court papers are worked out and prepared. John has gone abroad with his mother and sisters to wait out the decision. Days before the divorce is finalized, John pays Christiane a visit. When Christiane tells him the particulars of the settlement, which Fanny does not know yet, he is shocked to realize Christiane’s “payback.” It slowly dawns on him this means Fanny may not be able to proceed with the divorce, which of course means their marriage is in jeopardy. The full weight of the deceit contained in the divorce decree will come after the marriage and the only moral thing to do is to tell Fanny the truth now.

Wharton’s long residence in France gives her intimate access to the contrasts between American and French culture and views of American individualism vs French ties to family, church and society, which are of major importance in this novella. The story and characters are just as vivid as if this was one of Wharton’s longer works. And the ending is just as shocking! (A major spoiler, but since this is a novella it won’t take you long to know)!

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My Edition
Title: Madame de Treymes and Three Novellas
Author: Edith Wharton
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Device: Trade paperback
Year: 1907
Pages: 70

Challenges: Back to the Classics

BookNotes#1 The Tango War: The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds and Riches of Latin America During World War II

…It is difficult to imagine how strong the Reich was before 1943, how grievous a threat to the Allies, how unsure anyone was about which way the conflict would go. In the run-up to the war and during the hostilities in Europe and the Pacific, the Latin American region was up for grabs.

 

TangoThe Tango War is about a subject I didn’t know anything about. In fact, I had no idea that South and Central America and Mexico played any part in World War II. Strategically placed between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, both the Allied and Axis powers fought over control of their land, sea and air as well as exploit the natural resources for their use in the war.

Through research and interviews McConahay presents a compelling study, that includes James Bondsian intrigue, rich Americans supporting operations on both sides that would make them the most money, Hollywood propaganda films that supported the war effort in the South, and the Nazi war criminals who escaped prosecution in Europe and found safe harbor in South America.

These especially surprised me:

  • Mexico was terribly exploited for its oil in the years before the war by private US companies who brought the oil to Germany in support of the Reich, including The Winkler-Koch Engineering company headed by Fred Koch, the father of the American conservative Koch Brothers. His oil refinery, built in Hamburg for Germany, was one of the largest oil refineries in the world
  • In US controlled parts of Latin America, the US rounded up ethnic Japanese and put them in internment camps stateside to be used as prisoner exchanges with the Japanese
  • 25,000 Brazilians took part in the invasion of Italy
  • The “Ratline” which brought Nazi criminals from Europe was enabled by the Catholic Church who provide safe passage and visas. Men who never faced the consequences for their participation in the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity were instrumental in supporting some of the most brutal governments and dictators that would plague South America for decades after the war

The final chapter discusses US support of Latin American dictators, including Peron in Argentina and Pinochet in Chile, which I found useful in showing how all the threads of this ‘tangoed’ tale come together.

I am attaching this review by Elaine Elinson, whose review in the LA Review of Books brought The Tango War to my attention. It is, in itself, a compelling read.

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I’ve created BookNotes as short reviews when books have made an impression, but time constraints don’t allow a full record of the title.

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My Edition
Title: The Tango War: The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds and Riches of Latin America During World War II
Author: Mary Jo McConahay
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Device: Hardcover
Year: 1918
Pages: 320

Challenges: Library Love, World at War, (Nonfiction Friday)

Mary Oliver, September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, talking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
If I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
Or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. —from “When Death Comes”

 

turkeyvulture

 

Mary Oliver died today.

Poet of nature, of spirituality; she loved all life.

Now she is with all of her beloveds…the two- and four-leggeds, the winged ones, the fishy furry slithery ones, the ones who grow tall from the forest floor their branches a shelter to the spidery predatory squirrelly ones.

Oliver’s death is an uncommon experience for me, since most of my favorite authors are classics writers and long dead! I don’t have to mourn the sudden silencing of their voice as I have to do now. But words live on and become more treasured than when uttered the first time. In 2017, I reviewed her latest collection of essays, called Upstream.

Looking for one of her works for this moment is impossible. There is never just one. So this:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life? —“The Summer Day”

And this:

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?
—”At Blackwater Pond”

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Villette, Charlotte Bronte (1853)

I had nothing to lose. Unutterable loathing of a desolate existence past forbade return. If I failed in what I now designed to undertake, who, save myself, would suffer? If I died far away from—home, I was going to say, but I had no home—from England, then, who would weep?

 

villetteJane Eyre is one of my very favorite books. As such it has cast a spell over any desire to read Charlotte’s other novels. But I broke that spell with Villette and while it didn’t knock down my favorite it was a wonderful reading experience.

But it is an odd book. The narrative is filled with the supernatural, with sounds and ghosts real and imagined, madness, creepy streets and gardens, a heroine who not only talks to herself but answers back. And it abounds with coincidence, serendipity or the saving grace of Divine Providence, however one might want to call it.

Lucy Snowe is like Jane, an orphan cast off and adrift in the world, although Lucy is a young woman, not a child, when she is forced by circumstances out of her godmother’s care and left to her own devices to find her way. Through a series of the aforementioned coincidences she is saved by acquaintances, old school chums, being in the wrong place at the right time to finally finding love and security.

Snowe is often convinced she will die when yet another position as a companion or as a teacher goes awry. Through inner dialog she is ready to meet her fate with a philosophic resolve. Her many conversations with Reason are quite profound.

Often has Reason turned me out by night, in midwinter, on cold snow, flinging for sustenance the gnawed bone dogs had forsaken: sternly as she vowed her stores held nothing more for me–harshly denied my right to ask better things…Then, looking up, have I seen in the sky a head amidst circling stars, of which the midmost and the brightest lent a ray sympathetic and attent. A spirit, softer and better than Human Reason, has descended with quiet flight to the waste—bringing all round her a sphere of air borrowed of eternal summer, bringing perfume of flowers which cannot fade—fragrance of trees whose fruit is life, bringing breezes pure from a world whose day needs no sun to lighten it.

Lucy fights with Reason and Divine Providence often, each whispering opinions to her weary mind. She has been made mad by them, but they have also healed her.

A little reading about the reception of Villette in Bronte’s time is fascinating. As a reader of this book in the 21st century, I see it as an honest portrait of a woman who has no family—male relatives—to support or protect her, she is like many in Bronte’s time. Snowe’s life is in her own hands to be made of what she can and at times it isn’t pretty. Bronte’s contemporary, Matthew Arnold, had a decidedly bitter experience with the journey of Lucy Snowe, calling the novel, “hideous, undelightful, convulsed, constricted…one of the most utterly disagreeable I have ever read. Her mind contains nothing but hunger, rebellion, and rage. Which the only response can be, “Exactly!” He did not understand that he proved Bronte’s point about women in Lucy Snowe’s situation.

If the novel was only about the Ginevra Fanshawe and Polly Home type, the lovely young girls of status and wealth, that would have made a “pretty novel,” but not a very interesting one. Bronte chose honesty over superficiality giving Lucy Snowe strength, instead of helplessness modeling a heroine that speaks to and gives hope not only to women in Bronte’s time, but to the situation of many women today.

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My Edition
Title: Villette
Author: Charlotte Bronte
Publisher: Bantam Classics
Device: Paperback
Year: 1853
Pages: 474
Summary

Challenges: Back to the Classics, 2019 TBR Pile Challenge, Classics Club

I don’t have a Name for God…Why I call myself a Pagan

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In Wildness is the preservation of the world. Thoreau

 

I say the word God. I thank God. I get mad at God. I question God.

But I don’t have an image of what or to whom I am talking. No image forms in my mind’s eye. I don’t see Jesus or an old bearded man. I don’t see a God or Goddess. God, for me, is an experience or a feeling of connection to the generative force in the Universe. It’s that present something that continually creates and moves forward all life.

Growing up in an interfaith secular home meant holidays were celebrated in their commercial forms: the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Hanukkah gelt. God didn’t enter into it. As a young adult, I tried to understand or reconcile my multifaith background through rites and rituals, through behaviors so that I might “feel Him.” I was mystified by others in pews and classrooms who totally got this, felt this and for whom through all the tenets and dogma, God was real. I wanted that, too. I wanted that so much I lied to them and myself hoping that the saying, “fake it till you make it” might actually work.img_5320

But the moment I stepped on a trail or looked up into a blue cloudless sky at a hawk soaring elegantly on thermals or noticed the scent of pine—God made sense to me.

I fought this desire to find God in Nature for a long time. It seemed trite, “I find God in Nature!” I wasn’t a hippie or a mountain man. I was just a gal in the city who couldn’t seem to get God the way my peers did.

For several years after discovering Wicca and other Pagan paths, I joined groups still trying hard to feel what other folks were feeling, this time about Gods, moon phases, the seasons and what was expressed in the holidays of the Wiccan year. I loved the ceremonies marking the equinoxes and solstices and the celebrations of the full moon. But finding a pantheon eluded me and the philosophies seemed complicated. Maybe I was just too lazy to commit to the beliefs of any religion if all I needed in order to find and experience God was to lie on a boulder in the sun with a lizard.

What do you call this?

But this idea that what I am experiencing is God, still doesn’t feel right. I don’t know what I am participating in if I don’t feel it’s the God of Judeo-Christianity or the Gods of the Witches. My experiences in Nature sunning myself on a boulder on a mountain in the San Gabriel’s with a lizard as a companion seem bigger than religion and God as I understand them. Turning my head, eye to eye with Lizzy basking together in the heat of the day is a connection that is so profound to me and greater than a similar experience with a human being. It is two very different species meeting and having the same experience with the life-giving rays of the sun. The word God feels too small here and religion doesn’t have room for this. Except, it should….

We are “starstuff”

cosmosI am old enough to remember Carl Sagan, the American astronomer, scientist, author and miniseries star. When “Cosmos” came out most people I knew were riveted. No one had ever explained the universe and the night sky to regular folks in lay terms before. Sagan was personable, easy to understand, not patronizing and above all made us feel closer to the sky, as if it was part of our neighborhood.

One of his most famous concepts had a big effect, “we are starstuff.” We are part of the beginning of the Universe when it exploded into bits, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” Further, he said, “if you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” And that means when we look up into the night sky we see our relatives.

The Genesis account of Creation is, to me, right there with it. God as the Big Bang calling all Creation into being, breathing life into the first human means we are all related as well. In both cases we were created/have a Creator who connects us past, present, future. Whether we look across the sky to the bounty of stars or across a room full of people we are looking at our cousins, because all life is the incarnation of our Creator. Therefore, it is not a stretch or a fantasy to feel connected to God in Nature any less than we do with blood relatives.

From starstuff we get mountains, the sea, trees and bugs and coyotes; we get the planet Jupiter, a kitten and Grandma Sadie. When we bask in the healing rays of the sun oimg_4741 - copyr watch the tides forming from the pull of the moon we feel our kin. Genesis gives us this same connection. We are not separate to do with the Earth as we please without repercussions. Modern Pagans get it. Indigenous peoples get it. This perspective is fundamental to the way we treat our non-human relatives, including this planet, so it is ironic that the Judeo-Christian establishment condemns this as Nature-worship, as if worshiping, loving, respecting, seeing Nature as holy and sacred should be considered blasphemy!

Being Pagan gives me a perspective of myself in the Universe that traditional religions are blind to. They have turned animals, plants and the land of the Garden into resources; they have turned them into something to USE, instead of seeing them existing for their OWN sakes. But….it IS in their holy books to see Nature as sacred. And when that happens it will heal the rupture that separates ‘man’ from Creation. Then the land, the animals, the very air will breathe, literally, a sigh of relief.

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This is a very personal post. I am sharing these thoughts, because if you follow me on my Instagram and other social media I often post poems and quotations with my photos that describe or evoke my relationship with the natural world. As a book blogger, obviously words move me. When reading the classics I am sometimes stuck on a beautiful phrase that stays with me. So too in the way poets and other writers capture a feeling that describes Nature and helps me to feel connected. These are meaningful moments for me and so I share….

 

Beginning Again…Happy 2019!

The words of this poem move me. I want to start this year with them in my heart. Life is simple and uncomplicated when I know what is most important is right in my own backyard.

I look up, I look down, in front and around. I look inside. And that is all I need to begin…I am another year old today.

 

fullerton
Me as Cormorant, open to all good things!
Remember

Remember the sky that you were born under, know each of the star’s stories.

Remember the moon, know who she is.

Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the strongest point of time. Remember sundown and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled to give you form and breath. You are evidence of her life, and her mother’s, and hers.

Remember your father. He is your life, also. Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.

Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them, listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the origin of this universe.

Remember you are all people and all people are you.

Remember you are this universe and this universe is you.

Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.

Remember language comes from this.

Remember the dance language is, that life is.

Remember.

—Joy Harjo, 1951

Relevant Obscurity in 2019

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2018 was a veritable reading bust for me. Health and personal challenges left me lethargic in writing up books from the beginning of the year. Frankly, I almost gave up the ghost with Relevant Obscurity…

I am away for the holidays letting my mind ramble as I explore. I am seeing places in my personal  life where I feel a similar lethargy and places I feel somewhat constricted. My ramblings have shown me this same constriction has bled into my blogging life by what I post and what I leave out.

I started Relevant Obscurity 3 1/2 years ago to concentrate on the classics. But reading reviews of other bloggers has opened me up to wider reading interests and I want to go with that flow, instead of sticking with self-imposed limitations.

Here is my projected approach to reading and writing in 2019:

  • Biographies. Some writers have particularly interested me during these 3 1/2 years and I want to know more about them, including Edith Wharton, Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Madeleine L’Engle and CS Lewis
  • The 19th and early 20th centuries. My favorite time period, which seems to be a hot topic in monographs these days of people and events. Yes, more nonfiction
  • Series and major works. I want to complete the Chronicles of Narnia, write about LM Montgomery’s Emily series (why isn’t Emily as well-known as Anne?), finish Henry James’s major work and read as much of Madeleine L’Engle’s nonfiction as possible
  • Contemporary fiction. “Yes, Laurie, step into the world of 21st century contemporary fiction.” So far it hasn’t hurt
  • Plays and poetry. I am neglecting these by concentrating mostly on novels
  • South America. Last winter I posted about starting German with the Babbel app. It soon became apparent that I could actually learn a language with this program, so I switched to Spanish. There is logic in there somewhere, but it’s a long story! I have become obsessed with Spanish creating my own reading challenge of South American literature, history and culture. And I dream about an adventure to Chile…

Book challenges will be less in 2019, but I am happy to continue with Back to the Classics, the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, Roof Beam Reader’s TBR, the Classics Club and Library Love, because they are fun and helpful. One new challenge I am undertaking is The World at War Reading Challenge. I am also looking forward to the Wales Readathon in March and RIP in the Fall.

We’ll see what actually transpires this year, but I remain positive.

Wishing everyone a fulfilling 2019!

 

The Magician’s Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia), C.S. Lewis (1955)

“Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.” Aslan

And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring….And when the Lion spoke and said, “Narnia awake,” he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl. And when the Beasts spoke in answer, he heard only barkings, growlings, bayings, and howlings.

magiciansnephewI read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (LWW) a few years ago. I liked it and knew I would read the other books in the series. I didn’t know there is, what we would call a prequel, until I struck up a conversation with a woman in a bookstore who is an avid Narnia fan. Apparently, after Lewis published the LWW a friend asked him about the lamppost that appeared out of nowhere and in order to clear that up he wrote The Magician’s Nephew (MN). So does this mean the MN is really the first book? When I looked this up, I found Lewis scholars from the 1950s with various opinions that plague newer scholars and fans alike to this day. Chronological order (Lewis’s preference) puts the MN first. Published order puts it 6th or before the Last Battle the last released title. Being that the MN shows not only the origin of the lamppost, but the creation of Narnia by Aslan and how evil enters the Kingdom of Narnia, I believe chronological order is best. But I am only two books in; not the best authority.

I have to admit though, half way through I was very disappointed in the story. I found it dull, the magic not particularly, well, magical. Digory and Polly, neighbor children who are thrust into the void by the power of the magic rings invented by Digory’s Uncle Andrew land in a world made up of innumerable ponds and woods. Even the world that unleashes the Witch and the evil brought to Narnia did not hold my interest. Only the desire that I read all the titles forced me to continue. And then suddenly, Aslan appears and the book takes a most promising turn.

This world has a hopefulness the other worlds did not. It is a new world without flora or fauna, but that changes as a magnificent and glorious sound pierces the air and the children realize Creation is being sung into being before their very eyes!

There were no words. There was hardly even a tune….It was so beautiful he [Digory] could hardly bear it…Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count….The second wonder was that the blackness overhead all at once, was blazing with stars….a thousand points of light leaped out—single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world….If you had seen and heard it, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing….The Voice rose and rose till all the air was shaking with it; the sun rose. You could imagine that it laughed for joy as it came up….the earth was of many colors; they were fresh, hot and vivid. They made you feel excited until you saw the Singer himself, and then you forgot everything else. It was a Lion and stood facing the risen sun. Its mouth was wide open in song….

These passages and the ones that speak about the creation of the animals and other two-legged beings, are the kinds of magic that moves me. Creation being formed out of Song and love and beauty by a Lion who is at once Creator and Sacrifice (LWW). Because, yes, one cannot but help to see that connection. Aslan is birthing the world through the sound of his Voice, bringing forth the first plants, the new starry heavens, the sun and wind and all the animals, birds and beings that will populate this new world.

Out of the trees wild people stepped forth, gods and goddesses of the wood; with them came Fauns and Satyrs and Dwarfs. Out of the river rose the river god with his Naiad daughters. And all these and all the beasts and birds in their different voices, low or high or thick or clear, replied. “Hail, Aslan. We hear and obey. We are awake. We love. We think. We speak. We know.

Aslan tells the animals and other sacred beings to guard and protect the land because evil has been let loose. The Witch followed Digory and Polly into Narnia, but for now she is headed for lands far away and won’t trouble Narnia for hundreds of years. In the meantime Narnia must be made strong. Aslan sends the children on a journey to find the fruit of a special apple tree that once planted in Narnia will reign over it against all evil. When they return Aslan tells Digory to throw the apple a certain distance and it settles into the soft mud. In the morning the tree is big and filled with fruit. Digory is certain an apple from this tree will help his mother’s cancer and Aslan gives him one to take home.

When Digory and Polly return to London, Digory’s mother eats the apple and is cured. Digory plants the core and a tree grows again overnight. As the years pass and the children grow up so does the tree which has a symbiotic relationship with the one of its origin: it wiggles a bit on days when it is windy in Narnia, even when there is no wind in London. But its shaking has weakened its roots, and one wind-filled day in London the tree topples over. Now middle aged and with unfaded memories of Aslan and Narnia and all he saw there, Digory cannot just chop up the tree for fire wood. So he takes part of the tree and builds a wardrobe which he puts in his house in the country….

The passages of Narnia’s creation, vocalizing it into Being, the animals talking to one another and back and forth with the children tick many of my fantasy-girl and spirituality boxes. I am so glad I stuck with this book. And I further learned I wasn’t so far off the mark when I wanted to set the book aside, because the arguments of Lewis scholars who say the books should be read as released, instead of chronologically with MN to be read first, stems partly from the fact that this IS a dull book up until Aslan’s entrance and children (and adults?) might be turned off by the dull first half and not want to read any further.

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My Edition
Title: The Magician’s Nephew
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publisher: Harper Trophy
Device: Paperback
Year: 1955
Pages: 221
Summary